Posted by: stokiecat | February 12, 2014

Parkrun Tourism (and football)

Tonight I was supposed to be attending the Stoke v Swansea game but a combination of what I believe to be the actual weather apocalypse and a poorly OH (migraine) I’m going to write about football in the guise of a running blog post whilst watching a stream, assuming the electricity holds out of course.

I’ve been a Stoke fan for nearly thirty years and a season ticket for about 25 of those. It’s not been an easy ride but the last five years have been pretty good. One of my goals is to do a 100% season (the best I’ve managed is 97-ish%) where I go to all the games. The problem with that is I need money, which means a job, which means it’s not always possible to go to all the games, it’s a vicious circle. It also pays for my race entries. I may run for beer and cake but I work for football and running now.

I used to be a regular at away games, mostly with my friend Becky, but watching Stoke away in the Premier League did become a bit of a chore (to put it politely) and after a 5-0 defeat against a mediocre Bolton side she said enough was enough and wanted to pick and choose away games. I was sort of stuck with no-one willing to go to away games with me on a regular basis, my friends are not fools. However this was before my health conversion, the forsaking of alcohol (well, lets just say cutting back massively rather than forsaking exactly) and the discovery of the benefits of running. My OH is also a Stokie (I wouldn’t be with him otherwise!) and a season ticket holder. He is also teetotal and the away day culture (i.e. 12 hours of drinking) didn’t really appeal to him but I struck a bargain with him that he would come to an away game once a month on the provision that we would go on official transport and not do the drinking thing, which I no longer do anyway. I also have a confession that I quite like visiting new grounds. I know some people like the old fashioned grounds, places like Everton and West Ham but my favourite away ground this season has been the Liberty Stadium, home of Swansea City. I will always have a soft spot for Craven Cottage (Fulham) but that’s more for the idea of having a pint by the Thames and the sheer eccentricity of the club. As I get older I like a proper view and decent leg room and a reasonably priced slice of cake. I have seriously started to consider taking a cushion and a flask of hot chocolate.

Anyway I had wanted to go to Southampton (St Mary’s) since they had come back up into the Premier League having never been before. However it is 180 miles from Stoke so the OH suggested that instead of an away day we went overnight instead. Well I’m always up for a romantic weekend away in a glamorous location so Southampton West Quay Premier Inn it was. Then I also realised that this was a prime opportunity for some parkrun tourism. You really know you are a parkrunner when the first thing you do on booking a weekend away is check where the nearest parkrun is. We travelled down on the Friday night in driving rain, heavy traffic and one of the most boring roads ever (the A34 from Oxford to Winchester if ever you want a really dull time). Because I knew I would be driving home on Sunday I did my long run (12 miles) on the Friday morning before driving down and had a great run –  it was sunny, hilly and at a decent steady pace. However between that and the three hour journey turning into 5 and a half hours I didn’t really feel like going out so it was a meal in the hotel, an episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix and an early night.

This was my second parkrun away from home. My first was at Richmond Park in London in November 2013. I made the same mistake then as I did at Southampton. You see the thing with staying at a Premier Inn is they do a brilliant breakfast so basically you can fill your boots for eight quid. I thought by getting up early and cutting back on what I was eating I would be OK. Two poached eggs, a bowl of weetabix, a crossaint and butter and two mugs of coffee later I was ready to run. We taxi-ed to Southampton Common as we weren’t sure where to go but from the stream of runners it was fairly obvious. The OH was instructed where to stand and an approximate finish time to ensure a photo opportunity. I estimated my finish time as about 28 minutes, it was a flat course (or so I thought) but it was new to me and already I was beginning to regret breakfast. I went for a brief warm-up and made it back for the pre-race talk, where the course was described as two laps, mostly flat with an hill on the back section of each lap. It wasn’t until I saw this picture that I noticed how wierd my bum looks in those compression leggins…

southampton 08022014a1 Receiving the well-organised, newbie, pre-parkrun briefing at Southampton: Photo from the Southampton parkrun Flickr

With 450+ runners it’s not what I’m used to (it’s not so easy to be friendly with that many people) however the Trentham vest was instantly recognised by a ex-Stokie, Lee,  who now lives in Southampton. We had a short chat but, as is the story of my running, he was way faster than me and needed to get to the front for the start. Turns out he had done Hanley several times when returning to the homeland. The start at Southampton was fairly slow as all 450 of us ran along a narrow path, you’d not want to be at the back from this one (must keep reminding myself it’s a run not a race). The rain had meant that the grass was too muddy to run past the slower runners at the beginning but it quickly thinned out and I could step up the pace.

southampton 08022014a2 At the start, there’s also a lot of people behind me: Photo from the Southampton parkrun Flickr

It was a pacer race so I tried to find the lady with the 26 minute vest but I couldn’t even see her once the race started. I did however see the guy with the 28 minute pacer vest, got past him about 0.5km in and thought if I can keep him behind me I’ll be happy. Now, there are hills and there are hills. In Hanley there are five short climbs with a total elevation of 220-ish. The Southampton parkrun has two long inclines but with a total elevation of  250m, but the steady climb means it feels much flatter, you will note that I’m not saying easier.  I was counting the distance only halfway in and I was blowing. By 2km I had massive stitch and was trying to do some yoga breathing to get back into some sort of decent form, damn you perfectly-cooked runny yolk poached eggs! By the time I saw the finish line I was ready to walk. I was determined that wasn’t going to happen but I didn’t even try to do a  “sprint-finish” as I would usually. I saw the OH and gave the usual thumbs up for my finish photo and heard a shout of “Go on you Potters” from Lee which made me smile, thank you 🙂

Southampton 08022014 a Just before the finish line.

In the queue for finish tokens I saw the the 28 minute pacer was several places behind me so I was happy. People were friendly in the queues for the finish tokens and the queues for the scanners. It was a bit chaotic but it really makes you appreciate how difficult it must be to put on an event like that every week when you have so many runners. One day I will do Bushy just to see what it’s like with over 1000 runners.

Rather than a full stretch routine, as a warm down we walked back into Southampton and due to the rain nipped into a few shops along the way including the very disappointing Decathlon (well for me anyway I expected much more running gear but the OH bought some trainers for 13 quid and so was very happy), getting lost in Ikea (seriously we could not find our way out) and then buying lunch in M & S. St Mary’s was a 20 minute walk from the hotel and it’s a decent ground with a good atmosphere, although it looks a bit empty on my pic because it’s about 30 minutes before kick-off.

IMG_20140208_143120134_HDR Stoke players warming up before the game.

We were right next to the away fans and the best of the banter was a chorus from Southampton fans with “You’re so Northern you eat off the floor” followed by a chant of “You’re so Northern you’re having a wash” when the heavens opened. To which the Stokies replied “You’re so Southern, you’re practically French”. It was a bit of a bizarre game really, two good goals from both teams and two ridiculous goals from both teams, all in the first half. We probably could have edged a win but I was very pleased with a point away from home after going behind twice. I also managed to nip into yet another running store, Sweatshop, on the way back. It was a good job it was nearly closing time and we were on our way to an pre-booked evening meal so I couldn’t spend my entire wages on everything in the shop. Anyway a thai curry, more episodes of Breaking Bad and a Premier Inn breakfast the following morning before the drive back to Stoke meant that it had been great weekend.

Next new ground in the planner, Cardiff, got to go this season as it looks like they’re heading straight back to the Championship…



  1. I think I prefer the short sharp hills to the long slow ones. Parkrun tourism sounds like a good idea, though!


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